Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government – Year 1 Performance – Consultation Report (October 2013)

 

Context/Background

The goal of the consultation on the implementation of Canada's Action Plan on Open Government was to engage the Canadian public and seek their feedback on the Government of Canada (GC)'s progress in meeting the year-one commitment deliverables of the Action Plan.

Timing:

The consultation was launched on Monday, August 19, 2013 for a three-week period (i.e. until Monday, September 9, 2013). The process was extended by one additional week until Monday, September 16, 2013.

Methodology:

Canada's Action Plan on Open Government – Year-1 Performance consultation was posted on data.gc.ca. Visitors were able to view the consultation materials and comments received, and also show their support for these comments by clicking on a thumbs-up button. To post comments, participants were required to create and login to an account on data.gc.ca.

Participants were also given the option to submit their feedback by e-mail via the Open Government mailbox (open-ouvert@tbs.gc.ca).

Participants were asked to provide their feedback in response to the following three key questions:

  1. How has the Government of Canada performed in meeting its year-1 commitments of the Action Plan on Open Government?
  2. Which Action Plan commitments do you think still require the most attention to achieve the objectives identified, and why?
  3. Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make pertaining to the Government of Canada's Open Government initiative?

Context for these three questions was provided via a link to the year-1 commitments under the Action Plan on Open Government and the relevant Key Year-1 Progress Highlights.

Promotional Activities:

Communication activities included the following:

  1. E-mails to stakeholders – (week of August 12, 2013) Invitations to participate in the consultation were sent directly to Open Government communities in Canada to provide an informed and engaged target for consultation.
  2. News releases – Two national news releases were issued: on August 19, 2013 at the launch of the consultation, and on September 12, 2013 as part of the consultation's one-week extension.
  3. Tweets – (beginning August 19, 2013) were posted daily from the TBS Corporate accounts to encourage participation. The President of the Treasury Board Secretariat also tweeted about the consultation from his personal Twitter account.
  4. Promotions on data.gc.ca (August 19, 2013) – Links to the consultation were established at various prominent locations on data.gc.ca, including through the flipper and What's New sections, both located on the data.gc.ca Welcome page.
  5. RSS feed – (August 19, 2013) A feed was included to notify subscribers when comments were added.
  6. The consultation was also posted on the Consulting With Canadians website – (August 19, 2013)

Response

Over the four-week consultation period, over 2,800 people visited the consultation site. The number of comments submitted during the consultation was low, with a combined total of 50 online postings and e-mails. However, the comments garnered over 500 thumbs-ups.

The feedback received covered a wide range of topics and helped inform Canada's Self-Assessment Report on the implementation of the Action Plan on Open Government's year-1 commitments.

What We Heard

Consultation Results

Accessible description of the image: Consultation Results
Consultation Results
Themes Number of Submissions
Transparency 30
Consultation 28
Canada's Action Plan on Open Gov 21
Modernizing Access to Info Admin 18
data.gc.ca 10
GCWeb 7
Open Government Directive 6
Open Government Licence 6
Virtual Library 6
Opening GC Records 3
GCDocs 2
Int'l Aid Transparency Initiative 1
GC Resource Management Data 1
Consulting Canadians 1
Open Regulation 1

Key Findings:

Four key themes emerged from this consultation:

  1. Transparency;
  2. The consultation activity itself;
  3. Canada's Action Plan on Open Government; and
  4. Access to Information Program.

1. Transparency (30 comments)

More than half of the respondents questioned the federal government's commitment to transparency. Many examples were submitted to highlight this topic, including the cancellation of the long-form census and the methodology employed for Canada's Action Plan on Open Government – Year-1 Performance consultation.

"Ending the mandatory long-form census limits the effectiveness of open government."

"I think information is still hidden and difficult to access and that many things that are available are still a challenge to search for… be more transparent."

2. The Consultation (27 comments)

More than half of the participants commented on the actual consultation activity itself. Most focused on a perceived lack of transparency of the process. Respondents felt the consultation had high barriers to entry because they believed that it was not (well) publicized, too short in duration, poorly timed, and/or respondents had difficulty navigating the consultation and submitting comments.

"My primary comment on this consultation is that it has not been promulgated in an effective manner. It seems almost hidden…"

3. Canada's Action Plan on Open Government (21 comments)

Comments were mixed with respect to progress made in year 1 of the Action Plan. Some respondents felt that good progress was made, while others gave Canada a failing grade.

"Good progress has been made on the Action Plan."

"I would say that the Government of Canada has failed in meeting any year-1 commitments."

Half of these comments were criticisms about the Action Plan itself. In general respondents felt it was too vague and too focused on technology and Open Data. They would like to see a revised Action Plan that is more ambitious, has concrete commitments, and does a better job of incorporating consultation activities within its development process.

"A more ambitious Action Plan should be developed which includes a wider range of types of commitments and which is less heavily weighted towards technological advances… We urge the government to engage in fulsome consultations as part of the process… as it develops its second Action Plan…"

4. Modernizing Access to Information (ATI) Administration (17 comments)

Year-1 deliverable:

  • Pilot online request and payment services for a number of departments allowing Canadians for the first time to submit and pay for ATI requests online.

A few respondents stated that the pilot project allowing ATI requests and payments electronically is a good start in making government more efficient. However, the majority (15) provided commentary beyond the scope of the Modernizing ATI Administration commitment in the Action Plan on Open Government and called for updating and reforming the Access to Information Act.

Included in the criticisms noted by respondents is that the Government of Canada has not heeded the input by Canadians and the Privacy Commissioner urging it to update and reform the Access to Information Act in order to improve the quality of the ATI responses. Respondents also noted their perception that there is less ATI information available than previously, that access to information is restricted, and that the turnaround time is slow, despite existing service standards.

"The Open Government Partnership provides an excellent, timely opportunity for a comprehensive review of Canadian ATI legislation."

Action Plan Commitments:

Feedback was provided for all of the commitments. Those receiving at least 5 comments (10%) are explored below.

data.gc.ca: (9 comments)

Year-1 deliverables:

  • Continue to expand on the number of datasets made available through the existing portal.
  • Complete requirements for the next-generation platform.

In general respondents were pleased with the existence of data.gc.ca. However, a number of suggestions were made for site improvements including the need to have more accurate data descriptions and clearer navigation.

"… the organization which published the open access data, simply hosted it on a site which contained a .csv file with no accompanying data dictionary or attempt to explain what field contained what pieces of information. This was a major oversight, as it renders the data virtually useless, despite the government's best intentions to make it open access."

Another comment highlighted that the deliverables under this commitment are not clearly outlined; therefore it is difficult to assess progress made.

User-Centric Web Services – GC Web: (7 comments)

Year-1 deliverable:

  • Develop an approach for a new user-centric, consolidated web presence for the Government of Canada.

Respondents are seeking more clarity around the plans for GCWeb. They would like to understand how having one consolidated Government of Canada site will work, including details on adopting a user-centric model. They would also like to ensure that a Web archiving plan is developed prior to the implementation of this commitment.

"… the plan does not address the need to ensure web archiving of the information on existing web sites prior to reduction…"

Open Government Directive: (5 comments)

Year-1 deliverables:

  • Confirm our policy direction for Open Government by issuing a new Directive on Open Government.
  • Consult with Open Government Advisory Panel to inform development of the Directive.

The anticipated release of the Open Government Directive is regarded positively for the effect it is expected to have on increasing the release of GC datasets. There is also an interest in conducting public consultations on the Directive.

"We look forward to the Open Government Directive and its implementation. We hope that the public will have a chance to provide input on this issue."

Open Government Licence: (6 comments)

Year-1 deliverables:

  • Issue a new Open Government Licence.
  • Coordinate with other Open Government Partnership members to allow more seamless collaboration across borders.

The Open Government Licence received positive feedback. Respondents hope to see its reach extended beyond data.gc.ca and to have it adopted by the whole of the federal government, as well as provincial and municipal counterparts.

"We especially applaud the new Open Government Licence and hope it will become mandatory for all Government of Canada publications."

Virtual Library: (6 comments)

Year-1 deliverable:

  • Begin the design of an online searchable repository of published Government of Canada documents of all kinds.

Respondents agree that the Virtual Library commitment is a good idea. They would like to see the plan behind it and have the opportunity to provide input. They hope that the site will ensure access to both new and old publications and information.

"The Virtual Library design plans should be made available to Canadians… The Virtual Library must also include access to both new and old publications and information."

Conclusion:

Results of the consultation were used to inform the Self-Assessment Report on the implementation of Canada's Action Plan on Open Government year-one commitments.